April 1, 2018
These words are often, perhaps falsely, attributed to Mother Teresa, who is quoted as saying,“Just show up and things will happen.” Regardless of who coined them, the words were further spun by Woody Allen when he said, “Eighty percent of success in life is showing up.”
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark,
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw
that the stone had been removed from the tomb.
Mary showed up. The other apostles didn't. The rest is Christianity.
April 8, 2018
To each according to need; from each according to ability
Although forever connected with Karl Marx, these words were commonly used in socialist movements before he wrote them in 1875. It is a challenge to describe an entire socio-economic system in ten words. Might capitalism be “greed and let the chips fall where they may?” Anyone I’ve ever talked to who has travelled to Cuba comes back to say their cab driver or their beach waiter was a doctor who worked an extra job because doctors there don't make any more money than service personnel. And everyone who criticizes socialism will pull out this phrase and say that people in general are too lazy and too greedy to ever work simply to meet their needs. These ten simple words describe a vision of a fair and prosperous world. Whether or not it is vision that can be realized has been debated since the words were first spoken.
Now the whole group of those who believed
were of one heart and soul,
and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions,
but everything they owned was held in common.
The early church lived by the principle of sharing work and wealth as equally as possible and the early church thrived; Luke connects these facts(Acts 4:33-35). At some point that prosperity ended. Is that where the church went wrong? For sure, living by these principles of radical sharing in our context would make an undeniable statement of trust in God rather than in any political system, or in any kind of "ism" for that matter.
April 15, 2018
While not recorded in English until the early 1700s, the notion is much older. Aesop’s best-known fable might be The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs. The owner of the goose would have been set for life by receiving a golden egg each day, but instead he cuts the goose open to find the supply of eggs, leaving him with one dead goose and no more eggs.
There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound.
Like so many Psalms, the movement of the Psalm is of complaint to praise. The verses above encompass this transition… to the gratitude attitude. However, it does not answer the question of “how” this changes. Our gratitude is taken by many to be a requirement of God but it is just as easily understood as to being a gift from. Although many people eat without giving thanks, once saying grace becomes a habit, it just doesn’t feel right to skip it. As one elder said to me, “The food doesn’t taste right.” There is a sense that anytime we fail to be mindful of God's gifts, we “bite the hand that feeds us.” Alice Walker put it this way in her book, The Color Purple: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.”
April 22, 2018
Just do it
Nike® found fewer words to say, “Action is the foundational key to all success.” Pablo Picasso usually gets the nod for this longer version but a particular context never appears. In my research, I came across a book of his entitled One Liners. I expected witticisms, but what I got were drawings of his that he made without taking his pencil off the paper. There are a few brief quotations in the book but none of them are remotely close in nature or content to these words on action. The closest, and it is not that close, is “The fatigue of one's hand as one draws is a perception of time.” The link would be that action, which creates fatigue, gives time its meaning. In the movie Shawshank Redemption, the character Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, offers the advice to “get busy living or get busy dying” which is not far removed from “Just do it.”Prisoners are more likely to use the acronym WTF to describe acting without thinking. While “Just do it” is often implied to mean acting after some amount of thinking, WTF decisions do not carry the same connotation.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
One of the best lessons I received in seminary was to read texts primarily to see “what God does.” I was encouraged to underline the verbs used with God, as I have above, in order to find the heart of a given passage. How many times have you heard the 23rd Psalm? How many different verbs describe God in that psalm? I count eight verbs in six verses. If actions speak louder than words, then verbs speak louder than nouns or adjectives! God is what God does.Or, as others have said, “God is a verb.” Both Marilee Zdenick (1974) and David A. Cooper (1998) have published books with the title God is a Verb. If God's actions speak louder than words, then likely ours do too!
April 29, 2018
No man is an island
In spite of a frequent crossword clue that suggests that Donne’s authorship has been disproven John Donne's Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, and several steps in my Sickness, written in 1623 contains both the phrases “No man is an illand” and “For whom the bell tolls.” Unlike many of the quotations I chose for this book, where true origins are unknown or debatable, there is universal agreement that this is Donne's image. His assertion describes a major tension between conservative and liberal worldviews. Are we autonomous beings who make choices freely (conservative)? Or, are we incontestably a part of a whole (liberal) and unable to act in isolation? Should our responses deal with individuals (conservative) or society (liberal)?
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,
because apart from me you can do nothing.
John Donne's words, in both their original context and common use, speak of how humanity is always in the processes of uniting and dividing. We cannot escape it because we are not unto ourselves and therefore we constantly need to seek new equilibrium with those we are in relationship with. Jesus' words are often reduced to speaking of the unity of humans with God, but such a reading misses the implicit human-to-human connection that the vine and branch image implies. Jesus’ words include the notion of our interconnectedness. There is no doubt that Jesus considers no one to be an island. What's more, he is in the centre of the island we are all part of, if not actually the island itself.
May 6, 2018
Ask not what your country can do for you
but what you can do for your country
John F. Kennedy spoke what may be the most remembered words ever spoken by a U.S. President. They are from his inauguration speech and may have been inspired by Cicero, who in the year 44 BCE said, “We are not born, we do not live for ourselves alone; our country, our friends, have a share in us.”
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Most people gravitate to a sense of great heroism when they hear this verse. It is often used when giving thanks to members of the military who lost their life in combat. I will never forget what Anglican priest Herbert O'Driscoll did with this verse when he explained that sometimes we lay down our life “one nickel at a time.” Every day asks us to sacrifice and if we spend our time waiting for our big heroic chance we miss the opportunities that come to us hour by hour, if not minute by minute. It is foolish to debate one against another for God asks different things from different people at different times. Kennedy's words too, were no doubt meant to be a daily sacrifice for some and a huge moment for others.
May 13, 2018
Nice guys finish last
Even though others claim he never uttered these words, baseball manager Leo Durocher chose them as the title of his autobiography, where he makes the case of his authentic coining of the phrase. He relates that he was being interviewed on the field before a game and was talking about his own player, Eddie Stanky, and how Eddie’s fight and determination constantly pushed him past his abilities. Then, as the opposition Giants took the field, led by future Hall of Famer Mel Ott, he listed them all off by name and said, "Take a look at them. All nice guys. They'll finish last. Nice guys finish last." A frequent use of the term is in reference to “getting” women or girls who are, implied by the saying, more likely to go after a “bad boy” than a nice guy.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
Perhaps it is a stretch to equate the “nice guys” of the aphorism to those “who do not follow the advice of the wicked” but if accepted, then nice guys, at least prosper, which presume avoiding last. Does Durocher contradict God? Leo finished first more than last. Was this because he was not nice? Did he win in spite of his niceness? Perhaps the problem is in the word “nice.” Whatever the relationship, the relationship between being nice and being first is neither clear nor simple. And in the same way, we can all point to many a faithful person whose lack of prosperity is plainly visible.
May 20, 2018
You are not alone
These four words are attributed to everyone from Rabbi Kushner to Marilyn Monroe. Fortunately for each one, they are part of a bigger quotation and the context provides meaning and value. The Creed of the United Church of Canada uses the phrase "We are not alone" as a refrain.
In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
The presence of God may be the most steadfast biblical message. Among the far too many verses to name are the identification of Jesus as Emmanuel-God with us (Matthew 1:23) and the promise (John 14:15) and coming (Acts 2:4) of the Holy Spirit. I doubt that Rabbi Kushner, or even Marilyn Monroe were referring to a stalker who peeks through your window; they too are speaking the Holy and ever-present nature of God that will never leave us alone. In fact the phrase from the last verse from the 23rd Psalm, “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” could be just as easily translated “surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me….” Instead of “goodness” and mercy” dutifully hopping along behind us like a couple of mascots, they are hot on our trail to save us from travail and terror. Not only are we not alone, there is nothing we can do about it and God is on the job all the time, in hot pursuit, no matter where we go.